Nursing a one-run lead after giving up a two-run homer in the ninth, Bama closer David Robertson was a strike away from closing out the Saturday game against Mississippi State no fewer than nine times. But finally, with a 1-2 fastball, Robertson struck out MSU first baseman Brad Jones, stranding the would-be tying run on first base and preserving a 5-4 win for the Crimson Tide.
Brian LaNinfa fouled off five straight 3-2 pitches before coaxing a two-out walk in the ninth, and Jones battled to foul off three two-strike pitches off Robertson before going down swinging on a pitch in the dirt.
"It's heartbreaking when a guy fouls it off," Robertson said. "You want that pitch so bad. They just battle you real hard."
MSU's leading hitter Thomas Berkery pulled the Bulldogs within one run with a two-out blast a man on base in the ninth.
"I was trying to throw a strike and he deposited," Robertson said.
Robertson threw 66 pitches in two and two thirds innings to pick up his sixth save.
Alabama clinched its third straight Southeastern Conference series and improved to 22-8 overall, 7-1 in the SEC. It was win number 500 for Jim Wells at Alabama, and the fifth time in the last five tries Alabama has swiped a series from a team ranked number one in the country. A Sewell-Thomas Stadium record crowd of 6,821 was on hand for the game.
Mississippi State out hit Alabama 10-6 and each club had one error apiece.
"We dodged a bullet and we got the hit at the right time," Wells said. "I know we didn't have a lot of opportunities and we took advantage of them. That's a great way to win."
An outstanding defensive effort in the top of the sixth inning factored in the Tide win. Jones slapped a one-out pitch to the wall in right center field and tried to stretch a double into a triple, but Emeel Salem made a flawless retrieval and Evan Bush relayed a perfect throw to third base to nip Jones by an inch.
"It's so nice to see other parts of the game than just having the pitcher and hitter dictating the game," Wells said. "I told the team that play was as big as getting a hit at the right time. It was fun. You don't see that play that much, so it fired me up."
Salem, who added the assist to a three-hit, two RBI day, said, "I definitely think that was one of the turning points of the game. I don't do the hard part on that. I get it to Evan and he made the strong throw."
Alabama jumped out to an early 4-0, scoring two runs apiece in the first and two in the second inning. Salem led off the game with a single, advancing to second on an error by MSU center fielder Joseph Hunter. Matt Downs reached safely attempting to sacrifice but when MSU failed to get Salem at third. Evan Bush then singled to drive in Salem and Kody Valverde sac flied to bring Downs home.
The next inning, with two men out, Salem pounced on a 2-1 fastball, driving a two-out over the right field wall for his first home run of the season.
"I just had my day and I saw the ball well," Salem said. "I got a little help from the wind and made solid contact. I was surprised. I'm always surprised when I hit a home run."
Bernard Robert pitched six and one third innings and picked up the win to improve to 4-1.
Robert wriggled out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the top of the fifth inning to keep his hopes alive. He walked in a run with one out after MSU loaded the bases on a fielding error, a hit and an earlier walk. Robert struck out Mitch Moreland and Joseph Hunter grounded to second base to end the inning with just one run of damage done.
Josh Johnson started and pitched seven inning in the losing effort for Mississippi State.